December 19, 2016

Tangible examples always win

Speakers face some of their biggest challenges when it comes to presenting data. There is something about pie charts and diagrams that PowerPoint users are drawn to like moths to a flame.

However, your audience doesn't usually need the level of detail that you provide, and they are typically overwhelmed.

How can you present data in a way that gets your point across, making it concrete, while giving the audience just as much information as they need and want to know?

Use an example or a comparison to something that your audience is already familiar with. There is always a story behind data; you just have to find it.

Here's an example I found in our local weekly paper.

Click the image to see it full-size.
The number of mattresses that are sent to landfills every year is almost 2 million. But numbers that big sometimes become meaningless to our audiences. They're so vague. So this ad takes on the vagueness of a big number, and compares the hypothetical stack of mattresses to the orbit height of the International Space Station.

Now, I can't really fathom that distance either (249 miles from the earth) and you could argue that it's also vague; however, I do know that the ISS is in SPACE! And I know that space is really, really, really far away. That's enough for me to comprehend that a stack of mattresses higher than the ISS is a really, really, really high stack of mattresses.

And that is so much clearer to me than a number. 

What examples have you seen of turning numbers and data into engaging stories and examples for audiences?

October 15, 2016

It's my tenth blogiversary!

Ten years ago this week, I started blogging.

My first post was published on October 9, 2006. Since that time, I've published 1,475 posts, I've saved 86 drafts that are still waiting to be finished and published, and I'm turning about 60 of them into a book to be published by the end of this year.

I've repurposed those posts into audios, teleseminars, webinars and trainings, and many of them are finding new life in LinkedIn and other places I never considered!

Thanks to my blog, I hit #1 on Google for "public speaking coach" in September of 2007, and I've had several entries on the home page of Google ever since. I can't emphasize the benefits of blogging enough!

Here's my very first introductory blog post (LOL - there's not even an image with it - maybe I should add one, finally). These days, I blog maybe once a month, but my blog is still working for me. Here's to another ten years!

September 24, 2016

I want to see the speaker, not the coaching

I recently attended an event with a long lineup of speakers. I'm like a kid in a candy store at events with lots of speakers!

As a speaking coach, I always learn something from watching others present, and of course, I analyze everything about their approach to see what I can pass along to my community. There's a lesson in every presentation, and this particular event had one overarching message that I must share.

About 80% of the speakers looked like they had been over-coached. There's a reason for this: They all worked with the same coach, and it showed.

What do I mean by over-coached?

1. They appeared "stagey," like they were acting, rather than using natural movements.

2. Almost every presentation had the same structure and trajectory.

3. Their vocal inflections lacked authenticity and sounded over-rehearsed, not how people speak in "real life."

When I see over-coaching, I see a lack of trust in the speakers' abilities to bring forth their own unique power of expression. I see an over-reliance on technique and an under-reliance on the speaker's ability to connect in a human, genuine way.

Now, please don't interpret what I'm saying to mean that this was a "bad" coach. Every coach has her or his own style, own beliefs and practices, and unique training and experience.

However, speaking is not "one-size-fits-all," and there is no one method that works for every speaker. When I see a whole bunch of speakers in a row who've been coached by the same person, it's easy to spot the use of a cookie-cutter approach.

Coaching requires an personalized process, not a formulaic one. There is no "system" that I can apply to every one of my clients that will give individualized results. Coaching has to be tailored to each person's needs based on individual strengths, individual personality and style, and desired result.

Coaching should help the speaker find the best of what's already within him or her. Coaching is not about covering up the speaker with techniques and mannerisms, it's about revealing what's inside, using what's already there and building on it, allowing it to blossom. As Michelangelo said, "Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it."

The 20% of the speakers at this event who did not appear over-coached either already had a lot of experience as speakers and already knew how to own the stage, or had strong personalities that managed to override the "formula" that had been applied to them. These are the speakers who stood out to me for their truth, honesty, power, and compelling stories and delivery.

Coaching is a powerful tool, and every day we see athletes, executives, politicians and speakers who've made excellent use of excellent coaches. You see the improvement, the growth, the maturity, the confidence, the higher level of performance. You see someone striving for excellence while staying in alignment with who they really are at their core. You see someone blossoming, revealing what's already inside in new and exciting ways.

What you don't see is the coaching behind the growth. And that's the way it should be.

August 15, 2016

Julia Child's advice to speakers

“This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook – try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!” ~ Julia Child
Okay, so maybe she wasn't referring to speakers, but who can argue that her advice surpasses cooking and crosses over into many other areas?

As a speaker, if you're willing to try new things, learn from your mistakes, be fearless and have fun, well, you're ahead of the game already.

Happy birthday, Julia Child!

A couple of shots from my visit to Julia Child's kitchen at the Smithsonian! Lots of reflection because it's all behind glass.

August 10, 2016

Do your audience's filters override your message?

It's a story about a fig. It's a very simple story. This fig is HUGE.

I posted this picture on Facebook of the fig filling the palm of my hand. I thought the fig would speak for itself. But I was wrong.

I started getting comments like, "Can't get them here!" and "My mom loved figs, she had a fig tree." Someone said, "I used to love figs, still love fig Newtons cookies. My grandmother had a fig tree." And "Yum!!! Really miss that wonderful Cali produce!!!!"

And not one person mentioned the size of the fig.

Okay, if I had known this was going to turn out to be such an interesting experiment, I wouldn't have captioned the picture "Anyone want a fig?" I would have left it blank. But I didn't know it was going to be such a great experiment - and a perfect analogy for public speaking.

Here's the thing: Your audience is ALWAYS going to interpret your stories and your message through their own filters, their own background, and their own lifetime of knowledge and experience. When I see a meatloaf, I can't help but think about the meatloaves my mom used to make (with whole hard-boiled eggs inside!), and when someone sees a fig, they can't help but think of their relationship to figs.

If my message is clear - "Can you believe the size of this fig?" - then I'm more likely to get responses to the size of the fig. People will still filter the picture and the message through their own experiences, but they will also understand that my message is "Hey, this fig is huge!" And then their responses will be more like "I've never seen a fig that big," or "Is that closer to an apple or a peach in size?" Even those whose filters bring up grandma's fig tree might say, "My grandma had a fig tree, but I never saw one this big." The responses will now be in the same context as my message was intended.

But if my message is NOT clear, then they will come up with their own messages and stories about the fig, and those messages and stories will have nothing to do with what I intended.

This is what happens in your presentations when you're not crystal clear on your core message, your key points, how your examples and stories tie into your message, what's relevant to your audience, and what results you're hoping to achieve.

Your audience is already interpreting your message through their multiple filters. Being vague and scattered only makes it easier for them to get lost in their own heads rather than taking away the message you intend for them.

Now how about the size of that fig?

July 28, 2016

You're not just competing with other speakers

In the entrepreneurial world, and especially in the speaking and coaching worlds, we like to say "There is no competition." You see, we all have something unique to offer, we each have a unique voice and message, and no one else can do what we do in exactly the same way we do it. And this is true. But...

When you're speaking at a conference, you actually do have competition. Conference attendees will choose which breakout sessions to attend based on the description of your workshop and their needs and goals. Sometimes you know in advance how many people will attend your session, because pre-registration is required. And sometimes, attendees make up their minds at the last minute, because they don't have to pre-register, meaning that you have no idea who will attend your session.

On Monday, I attended a breakout at the National Speakers Association convention that seemed like a good fit for me. The topic seemed interesting, and I thought it might take me in a new direction in my business. But I was wrong. The workshop description wasn't really accurate, and after about 30 minutes, I realized I wasn't going to get what I needed from the session. So I left.

But here's the thing: I didn't go to another session. By that point, all of the other sessions were halfway over. So I sat in the main convention gathering area, the "hallway," if you will, and looked for people to talk to.

Over the course of the four-day convention, I actually attended very few sessions. I've paid for the recordings, and when they arrive, I'll go through and listen to the most intriguing sessions that I missed. Guess what I was doing instead of attending sessions: I was growing my business through hallway conversations.

What speakers don't realize in conference settings is that the attendees are not just choosing between sessions. They are choosing between sessions and conversations. While I was missing sessions, I was connecting, learning and building my business.

Hallway conversations are a powerful - and not to be overlooked - part of conferences that are equally compelling to many attendees as your breakout session.

When you create your session description, make sure to consider that you are not just looking to attract people to your session over the other sessions, but that you are also looking to attract people to a session AT ALL. 

If hallway conversations are more attractive than what you're offering - whether because you haven't properly tailored your content to the group, or you haven't described it well, or you do a poor job of delivering your message or engaging the audience during the session - you will lose potential and actual audience members to the hallway.

The competition isn't what you think it is. Prepare accordingly.

July 8, 2016

I did everything wrong

I'm a veteran speaker and trainer. My own experience of almost 25 years of speaking, teaching and training, plus my background in theater, my M.A. in Education, and my ongoing study and practice of the subject of public speaking are what I base my training and coaching on, and I consider myself an expert and an authority.

So how is it possible that I made such a huge rookie mistake, just three days ago?

Here's how it went down - how I sabotaged myself from day one.

A friend had a business trip she couldn't get out of, and her UCSB Extension class was going to be without a teacher. So she asked me if I could come in and be a guest speaker, since her students will be giving several presentations over the course of the program.

First mistake: I agreed to present in her two classes - with ten days notice.

I usually ask for a month lead time before presentations, because it's important for me to prepare properly - and I do have other work to complete during that time. It's not like I take a whole entire month to prepare, but snippets of time in between clients and my own programs and admin work.

But I like to help out my friends, and I thought, "No big deal. I can just do one of the presentations I do all the time, and it'll take no time to get ready."

Second mistake: Thinking I could just use one of my presentations I do all the time.

This was a completely different audience - high school students who are prepping for college by participating in this summer program. As I began to look at my content, I realized that my Speak to Engage presentation is too business-oriented. But the other one that might have worked, my Learn to Love Speaking presentation, was out of date, too rudimentary, and didn't include enough engagement concepts. And the presentations I usually give to high school or middle school students, didn't have enough presentation concepts, only confidence-building.

So I found myself, with a day or two before the presentation, creating a hybrid of presentations - a presentation I have never given, nor practiced.

Third mistake: Not giving myself time to practice.

New presentation, no time to practice, I just imagined that I would rely on my experience. I know how much time it generally takes to get through 60-75 image-based slides, and this was a 90-minute presentation. No sweat.

Fourth mistake: Expecting technology to work at the last minute.

The morning of the presentation, I tried to export my PowerPoint into Word for my notes. I do this with every presentation; my notes consist of the sentence at the top of each slide, with a comment or two below to remind me what I want to talk about or which activity I want to do. Kind of a bulleted list of the slides. I do this more to stay on time than to give me my content, which is all in my head.

Well, for some reason, only a portion of the slide headings would export into Word. No matter what I tried, I could only get about half of the slide headings to show up, meaning that there were going to be NO NOTES.

As I said, the content is in my head, but the notes show me, visually, how much content I still have ahead of me, so I can adjust my timing.

Why was I just printing out my notes the morning of the presentation? Because I was overconfident. There, I said it. Overconfident, complacent, all those things that happen to us when we have a lot of experience and think we can get away with winging it.

So I showed up with no notes.

What was the result of all of my mistakes coming together that morning?

I ran out of time. A lot of time.

At the end of the 90 minutes, I still had ten slides to go (for me, that's about 10-15 minutes of content). I had to let the students go without having finished the presentation.

To me, this is a cardinal sin of presenting. The presentation was good. The students were engaged, and I had no trouble integrating the hybrid concepts together. But running out of time means I literally left them without an entire section of material and my closing.

Feeling like a total idiot, I headed home to prepare for the second presentation.

I removed a couple of slides that felt redundant, and went over a couple of areas where I felt I had probably gone on too long or had too much discussion.

When I returned for the second class, I nailed it. The entire presentation, with interaction and activities, with Q&A, fit perfectly into 90 minutes. This is the benefit of experience, that I could fix the presentation after one delivery, trim my stories and discussion, and make it work the second time.

But to me, that's not good enough. I still had one classroom of students who had been shortchanged.

What are the lessons from this experience?

1. Never, EVER assume that things will go as planned with too-short notice.

2. Never, EVER assume that, because you've done this a million times, you can blow off proper preparation and expect to do your best.

3. Never, EVER assume that you are such a pro that you won't do something stupid and careless and disappoint your audience (actually, I don't know if they were disappointed, but they should be).

On the positive side (because you know me, and there's always a silver lining)...

1. I did have a chance to redeem myself with the second group, and I was able to figure out how to fix the problems in time for the second presentation. Experience does play a part in situations like this, both good and bad.

2. I realized that this hybrid presentation might be perfect for a group that I'm considering working with in the next month or so. I now have a whole new offering that I wouldn't have had if I hadn't been asked to speak in these classes.

I feel that part of my job as a coach and trainer is to be totally transparent, and let you see what really goes on in the world of professional speaking. I'm not perfect, and neither are you. But if we work hard to integrate what we learn from our mistakes, we will - at least - make these mistakes less often than the rookies. And when we do make rookie mistakes, we can clean them up faster.

I'd love to hear about a rookie mistake you made that you shouldn't have made because of your vast experience. Please share in the comments!

And for more speaker/trainer transparency: 

My friend Gloria Miele, another experienced speaker and trainer, was having some confidence issues on the other end of the spectrum. Check out her post about what to do when self-doubt rears its head. 

When Self-Doubt Sneaks Up on You
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